Across history, people have grappled with the question of freedom. Many have over time, due to the happenings in their life, wondered whether they have any control over anything in their life. For some other people, freedom is a given.
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It is exemplified by they ability to make choices. Choice implies freedom i.e. if there is no freedom to choose, there is no choice. However, in other people’s conception, even in the face of choices, one is influenced on what to choose and can not claim to be free; he or she can not choose anything else apart from what the forces that control him or her incline him or her towards (Taylor 143).
This paper looks into free will as a phenomenon. The paper seeks to establish to what extent human beings can claim to be free. This paper, in agreement with compatibilists, will seek to establish that although determined to some extent, there is a lot that human beings determine. A human being can only be “a determined auto-determiner”. What this means is that, in human choices, there is always an element of determinism and freedom.
To illustrate that human beings are “determined auto-determiners”, I will first discuss the causal notion of determinism. Causal determinism is based on the fact that for every effect there is always a cause and the cause informs the nature of the effect. Based on this kind of basis, hard determinists have posited that humans are determined and free will is an illusion. On the other end of the spectrum are indeterminists.
Indeterminists argue that much chaos and unpredictability can be discerned in nature. For example, considering human behavior, it often happens that given certain conditions one is expected to behave in a certain way but he or she does not. Despite of that, the indeterminist view is also untenable.
Faced with the two extremes, I will argue that a compatibilist approach is more realistic. Hard determinists or indeterminist have many objections to the compatibilist approach. However, through analyzing some of the possible objections by hard determinists and indeterminists, the viability of the compatibilist view will be illustrated.
There are people who contend that mankind is not free by any chance. They postulate that for a thing to be there must be a cause that facilitates its being. The cause of a thing defines what the thing is and all its characteristics. Based on the principle of universal causation, Aristotle posited the first cause, the prime mover or the unmoved mover.
He argued that each thing has an efficient and primary cause that determines its existence. Like Aristotle, Determinists believe that everything is caused and the cause determines the essence or ‘whatness’ of each given being. A thing can not be more than what its essence allows (Taylor 137). This is the first level of determination i.e. that we are determined by our ‘whatness’ or essence.
The essence of something is what makes a thing what it is. The essence of all things is predetermined by causes that produce them. Each of the causes is explained by other causes. However, this regression can not be endless. According to Aristotle, at the end of the regression is an ‘uncaused cause’.
St. Thomas Aquinas took up Aristotle’s ideas and affirmed that the causal regression can not be endless. He argued that by reason, an order or system of efficient causes can be discerned in nature with one following the other. An efficient cause is basically “the producer of an effect”. For example, a carpenter is the efficient cause for a chair.
Considering the efficient causes discernible in nature, a system evolves whereby for everything there is one such cause. The carpenter is the efficient cause of the chair. However, the carpenter is not an efficient cause in self; he or she resulted from parents, who had their parents. The lineage of parents can be followed until we arrive at the first man or woman. To explain the existence of man, scientists proposed the big bang theory and related evolution.
For philosophers like Aquinas, the big bang is not explanatory enough. There must be a cause for the explosion posited by the scientists. According to Aquinas, there must have been a being, prior to all beings, which is the ultimate cause.
The ultimate cause must have characteristics or capacity for all possible things. For Aquinas, this first cause or ultimate cause is what theologians call God. Theologians teach that God knows and His knowing is not limited by our conception of time. It follows that before anything comes to be, it is already known by God.
They further, point out that God has a plan; the divine plan for creation. Everything fits or has to fit into this divine plan. It is this assumption that has led to postulates such as divine law. In nature, one can perceive an order that was instituted by the author of nature or creation per se. therefore, given things are created to fit into a given plan, it follows that a human being is a mere puppet or cog in the wheel of a system.
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Not all people agree with ‘first cause’ related claims. Another way one might look at determinism is to consider the findings of cultural studies. Cultural studies have continually shown that whenever an individual is born into a society, society makes effort to ensure he or she fits into given societal prescriptions.
For example, two twins, a boy and a girl, are born to the same mother. From the moment their sexes are identified, societal stereotypes begin to shape their lives. The girl is dressed in a given way, fed on given food stuff and handled in given ways that are dissimilar to how the boy is handled.
As the two children grow up, they are taught cultural relative ways of doing things. Society teaches individuals, through the process of socialization, how they should behave and live. The social norms become the normal life and any deviation from the same is treated with utmost harshness from the rest of society. Therefore, individuals live by standards they did not choose but rather values in-calculated into them from in the past (Cahn & Eckert 136).
Contrary to determinists, indeterminists argue that chance and randomness in physical happenings and human behavior is a reality. The basic tenet that drives the indeterminist view is that there are no ‘necessary causes’ for events. A necessary cause is one that has to be present for a given effect to be realized. For example, for one to realize a Microsoft word document, he or she has to have a Microsoft word package.
For indeterminists, for every effect or event in the world, there are a number of discernible causes that are not necessarily dependent on another. For example, take anger as an emotion in people. Some people can get angry because another has laughed. The same action of laughter may elicit happy feelings and more laughter from another person, given the same context. Therefore, the same act of laughter leads to different effects. It would be false to conclude that laughter is a necessary cause for anger in an individual.
People make choices everyday and every situation in life is framed by alternatives. Indeterminists, basing on the fact that there is randomness and spontaneity especially in animal and human action, point out that not all causes are of necessity (Rachels 481). It is not necessarily the case that a hungry human being will jump at food provided by whatsoever party.
Given the dilemma between freedom and determinism, two kinds of positions are taken by thinkers; incompatibility vs. compatibility. For incompatibilists, determinism is incompatible or can not be harmonized with free will or freedom; therefore, incompatibilists choose only one position or the other. Indeterminists believe that man is absolutely free while determinists believe that free will is just an illusion.
The second school i.e. compatibilists appreciate that determinism does not exclude free will by necessity. The compatibilist view is more realistic than all the other positions taken by thinkers on freedom and causality. Considering individuals lives, it is clear that much that happens to them and around them is not in their doing. However, it is also true that there is enough that people have control over. For example, individuals grow to choose careers in the life. One chooses a career that his or her talents are disposed to.
For example, an individual may truly desire to be a professional footballer. However, due to genetically determined physique or temperamental disposition, he or she may not do well as a footballer. Being too short as not to comfortably fit into a football team is a natural accident that one can do nothing about; this condition is predetermined. Secondly, becoming a good football star also depends on exposure. Football is played more in certain societies than in others.
One has no choice about the society into which he or she is born. If one is born into a society where football is cherished, the chances of becoming a football star are higher due to cultural conditioning. Despite the mentioned natural and cultural factors, history has many examples of people who have beaten their circumstances and natural deficiency to accomplish fetes. Where there is a will, there is a way; it is said.
There are individuals who are too short or too tall or may not be considered to have talent. However, due to learning from experts and practicing hard, they come to learn the game and excel at it. This means that although there are limiting factors, an individual’s decision and willingness matters a lot in what becomes of him or her.
Hard determinists would object to my soft determinism on the basis that as long as one believes in God, then the rational choices that one makes are illusionary free (Taylor 143). They are illusionary free because one can only choose what is in tandem with God’s demands or dictates.
Secondly, they would argue that even willingness in an individual depends on circumstantial factors e.g. upbringing and encouragement or discouragement from society. Further, the hard determinists would point out that when it comes to individuals in society, one would be realistic to conclude that socio-cultural factors determine individuals. The rationale in rational choices is determined by what is right by societal expectations (Rachels 478).
Such objections are right, however, it has to be noted that, once one is mature enough, he or she can discern and critically analyze issues thus making decisions that transcend socio-cultural factors.
Intellectual maturity and development of intellectual capacity, enables individuals to transcend socio-cultural stipulations and embrace objectivity and reasonableness. Therefore, socio-cultural factors determine individuals but once one is mature enough, he or she gains capacity to influence and change socio-cultural ways and structures (Taylor 139).
When it comes to divine determination, it is more realistic to argue that God determines human beings so that by essence they are individuals who can make rational choices. Freedom is not about indeterminism, rather freedom is about choosing between alternatives in our settings based on rational considerations.
In conclusion, this essay points to the compatibilists’ view on free will and determinism as the most plausible one. The determinists have a point in the sense that if God exists, then divine determination is inescapable. Secondly, observing individuals in society, it is clear that cultural norms and expectations shape the way individuals think and go about given issues in their lives.
However, freedom is a reality that all living individuals have enjoyed or yearned for at some particular time in their lives (Rachels 479). By the mere fact that choice, whether determined or not, is possible, freedom can’t be a mere illusion.
Basing on the belief that people are free, human beings are held responsible and morality becomes a possibility (Rachels 483). A sense of good and evil runs deep in our thinking, it is more or less instinctual that we associate given things with good feelings and others with bad feelings. Human beings are determined. However, they are determined by their essence to be beings that can rationally consider options in given contexts and make choices.
Cahn, Steven, M., & Eckert, Maureen. Philosophical Horizons: Introductory Readings. Belmont: Thompson Wadsworth, 2006
Rachels, James. Problems from Philosophy. New York: McGraw Hill Companies, 2005
Taylor, Richard. Metaphysics. Upper Saddler River, NJ: Pearson Education Inc., 1963